Race & Ethnicity

Conservatives Try to Rewrite Civil Rights History (Again)

Wikipedia
Wikipedia Rand Paul’s unsuccessful speech at Howard University—where he tried, and failed, to paint the Republican Party as the true home for African American voters—didn’t happen in a vacuum. It drew from a heavily revisionist history of American politics, in which the GOP never wavered in its commitment to black rights, and the Democratic Party embraced its role as a haven for segregationists. In this telling of history, black support for Democrats is a function of liberal demagoguery and crude identity politics. If African Americans truly understood their interests, the argument goes, they’d have never left the Republican Party. Conservative writer Kevin Williamson offered a version of this history in a large feature for the National Review last year, and this week, he’s back with a smaller take— highlighting Barry Goldwater’s contributions to a local civil rights fight in Arizona —that comes to the same conclusion: Democrats were never on the right side of civil rights. Here’s...

In 2012, Black Turnout at an All-Time High

NathanF/Flickr
NathanF/Flickr It’s official —in 2012, African Americans voted at a higher rate than any other racial group in the United States, including whites. And it’s that turnout which delivered key states like Virginia, Ohio, and Florida, thus giving President Obama another four years in the Oval Office. Overall, while blacks made up 12 percent of eligible voters in last year’s election, they represented 13 percent of total votes, a consequence of African American enthusiasm and lower turnout among white voters. Here’s the Associated Press with more: The 2012 data suggest Romney was a particularly weak GOP candidate, unable to motivate white voters let alone attract significant black or Latino support. Obama’s personal appeal and the slowly improving economy helped overcome doubts and spur record levels of minority voters in a way that may not be easily replicated for Democrats soon. Romney would have erased Obama’s nearly 5 million-vote victory margin and narrowly won the popular vote if...

Black, Brown, and Blue

AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File
AP Photo/Colleen Long W hat Jamaal Vassell describes as one of the most challenging days of his life actually began at night, in 2010. An outgoing and popular presence at his neighborhood community center, Vassell, then 17, had traveled from his home in Canarsie, Brooklyn, to neighboring Brownsville to play basketball by himself at his favorite court. After making a few shots, a few younger boys, around 14 years old, joined in. They were all playing ball together until three New York City Police Department officers stopped them. Vassell was used to it. He had already been stopped twice by NYPD officers—once after popping into a convenience store after school and another time as he walked home from a local recreation center one night. The walk from the rec center ended with the officers handing him a summons for what he calls “smoking and hanging out too late,” two activities he vehemently denies doing. Nonetheless, he was ordered to show up in court. The summons seemed like being sent...

The Return of Herman Cain

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect Herman Cain, the Georgia-based talk show host who used the Republican presidential primaries to propel himself to national fame, has returned to the public stage with a new organization of black conservatives—the appropriately named American Black Conservatives. Here’s The Washington Post : His news conference is held in a room named for progressive Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. In attendance: three cameramen and three reporters, including one from the conservative publication NewsMax and another from CNN who is visibly disappointed when told that Carson had skipped the Monday event. Beneath a gilded chandelier, Cain explains the rationale behind the ABCs. “When black conservatives are attacked, they sometimes are more viciously attacked than white conservatives,” Cain says. “One of the themes of this meeting is: We will not be silenced; if anything, our voice collectively will be stronger.” Of course, no one is trying to silence black...

The New Deal That Could Have Been

Courtesy W. W. Norton and Company
I nvoking “dysfunction” is now the basic black of punditry about American politics. As the British political theorist David Runciman recently observed in the London Review of Books , “Commentators find it almost impossible to write about American democracy these days without reaching for the word ‘dysfunctional.’” Consider the lowlights of our political culture in just the past 15 years: a puerile impeachment; the subsequent president elected via a Supreme Court filled with political allies; a radicalized Republican Party, convinced that taxation and domestic government spending are a form of socialism; a failure by bipartisan elites even to prioritize, let alone tackle, continued high unemployment and the looming catastrophe of climate change. As Runciman’s editors titled his own essay on America’s lumbering democracy, “How can it work?” Courtesy of W. W. Nortn and Company It is one measure of the power of Ira Katznelson’s important, overstuffed new book, Fear Itself: The New Deal...

Martin Luther King and Today's Gun Advocates

Photo from the Library of Congress/Dick DeMarsico
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 45 years ago yesterday, and one of the interesting little sidelights to the debate over guns that you might not be aware of is that gun advocates claim King as one of their own. You see, King had armed guards protect his family, and at one point applied for a permit in Alabama to carry a concealed weapon himself. He was turned down, since in the Jim Crow days the state of Alabama wasn't about to let black men carry guns. You can find references to these facts on all kinds of pro-gun web sites, as nonsensical as it may seem. Gun advocates want to claim King as part of their cause, but also want to completely repudiate everything he believed about the power of nonviolence, which is kind of like Exxon saying John Muir would have favored drilling for oil in Yosemite because he sometimes rode in cars. The reason Martin Luther King sought armed protection was there were significant numbers of people who wanted to kill him, and eventually one of them...

Judging on Color

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Pro Publica has a long and excellent take on the plaintiff behind the challenge to the University of Texas’ affirmative action program, Abigail Fisher. In short, her central claim—that UT denied her application because of her race (she’s white)—just isn’t true: Even among those students, Fisher did not particularly stand out. Court records show her grade point average (3.59) and SAT scores (1180 out of 1600) were good but not great for the highly selective flagship university. The school’s rejection rate that year for the remaining 841 openings was higher than the turn-down rate for students trying to get into Harvard. As a result, university officials claim in court filings that even if Fisher received points for her race and every other personal achievement factor, the letter she received in the mail still would have said no. Later in the piece, Pro Publica goes to legal experts on both sides of the aisle for their perspectives. Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the University of...

The Making of the "Other" Chicago

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green A makeshift memorial at the site where 6-month-old girl Jonylah Watkins and her father, a known gang member, were shot on March 11. The girl, who was shot five times, died Tuesday morning. Her father, Jonathan Watkins, remains in serious but stable condition. J anuary was the deadliest month in Chicago in more than a decade. Forty-two people lost their lives on the city’s streets, most of them to gun violence. For 2012, the total number of homicides was 509, of which 443 involved firearms. While most of the shootings could be attributed to gang feuds, innocent people were caught in crossfire that often erupted in broad daylight and on public streets. Hadiya Pendleton’s shooting death, which took place only a week after the 15-year-old honors student performed at the presidential inauguration, is the latest tragedy to reinforce the perception that Chicago is the murder capital of the nation. Pendleton was killed when a gunman opened fire on a group of high-...

Men at Work

A look into the life of Latino construction workers in New York City, the second in a three-part series.

Sujatha Fernandes
This is the second story in a three-part series on the life of immigrant workers in New York CIty. Here is Part One , on Chinese delivery workers. F or ten months between October 2010 and August 2011, a Korean contractor named Bong Jun Park** hired a group of eight Latino construction workers to excavate the basement of a building in upper Manhattan. The workers were required to break the existing cement floor, excavate eight to ten feet of earth beneath it, and then pour cement for the new foundation. Many of the workers were undocumented, and none were unionized. According to the workers, they were not given the proper equipment required to carry out the work, as they say often happens on such sites. While the initial concrete floor was broken up with a jackhammer, the workers were required to use pickaxes and shovels to ply it out. The task of digging up the earth was done by hand.* There was not even a conveyor belt to carry out the buckets of excavated dirt. Instead, workers...

The Fundamentals of Immigration Reform

T he United States, with more than 40 million foreign-born, a number that includes the estimated 11 million illegal residents, is not just the largest immigration player in the world; it’s larger than the next four largest players combined. Because immigration amounts to social engineering, how well we do it has profound consequences for huge swaths of our society, from education to health care to economic growth to foreign relations. Most important, how a country treats its immigrants is a powerful statement to the world about its values and the principles by which it stands. Related Content Spotlight: The Fundamentals of Immigration Reform Demetrios Papademetriou talks about what's next for reforming our broken immigration system. On all these counts, recent U.S. immigration policy has been more notable for its failures than its successes. Almost half a century ago, in 1965, we reversed the discriminatory policies that over the course of the previous 80 years had either barred or...

Making (and Dismantling) Racism

Wikipedia
Over at The Atlantic , Ta-Nehisi Coates has been exploring the intersection of race and public policy, with a focus on white supremacy as a driving force in political decisions at all levels of government. This has led him to two conclusions: First, that anti-black racism as we understand it is a creation of explicit policy choices—the decision to exclude, marginalize, and stigmatize Africans and their descendants has as much to do with racial prejudice as does any intrinsic tribalism. And second, that it's possible to dismantle this prejudice using public policy. Here is Coates in his own words : Last night I had the luxury of sitting and talking with the brilliant historian Barbara Fields. One point she makes that very few Americans understand is that racism is a creation. You read Edmund Morgan’s work and actually see racism being inscribed in the law and the country changing as a result. If we accept that racism is a creation, then we must then accept that it can be destroyed. And...

Why We Still Need Section 5

AP Photo/Harold Valentine
With the Supreme Court expected to strike down a key piece of the Voting Rights Act later this year, now is a crucial moment for discussing Section 5's inarguable successes both in terms of civil rights and in improving the economic lives of Southern blacks. Gavin Wright, a professor of American economic history at Stanford, has spent his career studying the economics of slavery, segregation, and the historical Southern economy. His recent book, Sharing the Prize , documents the economic impact that the civil rights acts of the mid-1960s had on Southerners, black and white. Presentations of Wright’s work are available here and here , and a summary of his writings can be found here . While his book has some technical arguments, Wright’s ideas can be easily understood as a chronicle of the often overlooked economic consequences of the struggle for civil rights. It’s difficult not to look at the large wealth and income disparities between blacks and whites today and conclude that the...

More Black Men in College than in Prison

The Root
At this point, it's almost a cliché to declare "There are more black men in jail than in college." I've heard it my entire life—from adults, friends, politicians, and assorted pundits. When he was just a presidential candidate, then-Senator Barack Obama told the NAACP that "We have more work to do when more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America." It's a great soundbite. But it isn't true. As Howard University professor Ivory Toldson shows in a story for The Root , the original report on black male college enrollment—the Justice Policy Institute's "Cellblocks or Classrooms," first published in 2001—is far out of date. "If we replicated JPI's analysis," writes Toldson, "we would find a 108.5 percent jump in black male college enrollment from 2001 to 2011. The raw numbers show that enrollment of black males increased from 693,044 in 2001 to 1,445,194 in 2011." By contrast, of the estimated 2 million inmates held in state or federal prison...

Scalia's Weird VRA Spat

It is hard to overstate the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the heart of the law that ended decades of disenfranchisement in former Confederate states is Section 5, the "preclearance" provision. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get prior federal approval for any changes to state voting laws. The necessity of this provision was clear: without it, states had been able to nullify the commands of the 15th Amendment by passing measures that were formally race-neutral but were discriminatory in practice. Regrettably, the Supreme Court appears poised to eliminate one of the proudest achievements of American democracy. As Esquire 's Charles Pierce puts it , striking down Section 5 would constitute "the final victory of the long march against the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement that began almost before the ink dried on the bill in 1965." The most remarkable example of the contemporary Republican hostility to civil rights came ,...

Today in Magical Beliefs about Racism

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum President Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. I mentioned in my previous post that the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on the Voting Rights Act this week. At issue is Section 5 of the law, which requires states and localities with histories of voter disenfranchisement to pre-approve any changes that effect voting with the federal government. The provision effects nine states—mostly in the South—and most areas that submit for pre-clearance are approved. It takes serious problems for the Justice Department to put changes on hold. Despite the wide flexibility of Section 5—and the extent to which some areas are more likely to violate voting rights than others—conservatives have attacked this provision as "onerous," "unfair," and tantamount to reverse discrimination. Conservative members of the Court also followed this line of thinking . Justice Antonin Scalia described...

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